NATO Watch Strap – A History

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NATO Watch Strap – A History

You are sure to have heard of the NATO Watch Strap, a timeless design that is yet to be surpassed when it comes to fusing both function and style. Looking equally comfortable on all sorts of watches, mechanical, digital, or analog, the NATO strap is an evergreen design choice. It has most recently found popularity as a luxury apple watch band and is also available in different apple watch band sizes. This particular style of watch band is neither modern nor particularly luxurious but finds its way into being perhaps the most popular special band ever conceived. The reason for NATO watch bands’ endearing popularity lies in the annals of history, as all things do. Today, we will be taking a deep dive into the history of the NATO watch strap, how it works and how it came to be.

The Process

Before we can truly understand the spirit of the NATO strap, we need to understand how it is made. The production process is painfully easy to understand. The one thing that you need to keep in mind is the material nylon. The watch strap is typically made from nylon. It is known for being an extremely strong material.

In fact, it can undergo many times the force compared to a material like polyester before tearing off. The long strands and the ordered molecular structure mean that its tensile strength is absolutely mindboggling. The hydrogen bonds inside the nylon are extremely powerful and require a lot of energy before they can be broken. Thus, the power of the nylon strap really starts at the molecular level. It is abrasion resistant and will not be spoiled even by oil. Compare that to the typical polyester and there is a whole new level of resistance that the NATO strap is able to achieve.

This is a big clue to the original purpose of the NATO strap. It was designed to be used in harsh conditions where water or oil exposure would be extremely common. The high tensile strength means that it can't be torn easily ensuring that little scraps would do nothing to damage it. Slowly, an image starts to conjure up. Imagine you are in a war zone with the sweltering heat pouring down on you. In a place where there is no quarter, you certainly cannot be expected to pay much attention to the upkeep of your watch, can you? The NATO strap was envisioned as the ultimate watch band for the soldier. The strap will fray quite easily which gives it a rugged look even after just a little bit of use. For many, this is an aesthetic plus as the strap looks like it has been through some stuff and starts to show its ‘experience’ visually. The NATO strap however is extremely strong and the fraying does not have much effect on the tensile strength of the strap.

Origins

Now that the military applications of the NATO strap are apparent, the origins of the strap can be discussed. The strap was originally given to soldiers in the British Army in 1973. Initially, the strap was known as the G10. This is due to the fact that in order to get possession of the strap, the soldiers had to sign a form called G1098. In retrospect, the name of the watch seems like a whimsical choice. However, as all things are with the military, the function is considered supreme. The name G10 rolled off the tongue and was easy to remember, thus it stuck. It would come in a single color and in one single size that was 20 mm. In 1978, the company Phoenix took over the production of the military-issued NATO strap. These are often referred to as the golden generation of the NATO straps and since the company that used to produce them has gone bankrupt, they don’t make them anymore. Today, if you are lucky to find an original Phoenix-made NATO strap, you would have to pay a pretty penny in order to obtain it.

The James Bond Connection

NATO watch bands

Many people believe that the watch strap that James Bond sports in 1964’s Goldfinger is indeed the NATO strap. However, the truth is that the strap that James Bond wore in the film predated the actual NATO strap by nearly a decade. The only similarity and what seems to have stuck in the minds of people is the fact that the strap itself was made from Nylon. Everything else was completely different and really had no connection to the NATO strap. The NATO strap boasts a double spring bar system where the strap would actually go around the case of the watch twice. This meant that even if one spring bar broke, the other would still be able to keep the watch in its place.

It is interesting though that James Bond’s usage of a nylon strap was actually pivotal to the popularity of the NATO strap. Even though it clearly was not a NATO strap, most people still believed it to be one and this provided the spark that the NATO strap needed to go commercial. Even in the wider context of things, James Bond’s usage of a nylon strap while wearing clothes that were clearly formal represented a stark contrast and ushered in an era of non-metal or non-leather straps being worn formally.

Interestingly enough, the love story of James Bond and the NATO strap does not end here. In 2008, Daniel Craig was seen wearing a Rolex 6538 Submariner "Big Crown" given to him by Barbara Broccoli. She is the producer of the recent James Bond movies and is actually the daughter of the original James Bond producer, Albert Broccoli. What is quite funny is that this time around, the watch indeed has a NATO strap.

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The NATO Strap Today

While the NATO strap always had a cult following that swore by it, it never really broke into the mainstream even after people made the James Bond connection. Interestingly, however, the past few years have been extremely kind to the design landscape of the 60s and 70s, and like the Lamborghini Miura which has been shooting up in value recently, the NATO strap also seems to be ‘in’ these days.

The widespread appeal of the NATO strap in 2022 is simple to understand. It is functional and can take even the worst of beatings. It is the Land Cruiser of the watch world. You will never be scared of taking it into the wild and creating adventures out of nowhere. While your leather or metal straps will be a terrible choice for let’s say a wooded area with branches sticking out everywhere, the NATO strap would be perfectly at home. After all, the name literally pays homage to the biggest and most powerful military alliance in the world, perhaps even in the history of the world.

There are rare occasions when myth and reality start to converge to a single point. In Goldfinger, James Bond was far from wearing a NATO strap, but it became known that he was indeed sporting a NATO strap owing to the physical similarities that both straps shared. Reality is clearly different. However, the simple fact that people believed that to be true was enough to propel the popularity of the NATO strap into the stratosphere. In a case like this, myth starts to take precedence over reality, and eventually, the reality is molded to resemble the myth itself. The wearing of the NATO strap by Daniel Craig was the moment where the power of the myth was so overwhelming that reality had to bend itself to follow its rules. It was the time that everything came full circle for the strap and reignited its popularity.

Today, the fact that the vintage aesthetic has a powerful hold over society has only worked to boost the popularity of the NATO strap. Everything from camo pants to M65 jackets and their unending popularity seems to point to the fact that design that was purely incidental to the purpose of the thing still somehow resonates with people. The choice of nylon was purely based on its strength. The dual spring bars were only there because they provided a backup. However, when you combine these things together, the result is something that still appeals to the aesthetic sense of a human being, as evidenced by the NATO strap’s popularity.

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